The Prime Minister came under fire from opposition parties after the Scottish Tory manifesto was published yesterday with a commitment to maintain the annual hand-out, worth up to £300, north of the border.
The pledge came a day after the version of the policy programme released in England proposed means-testing the benefit so only the least well off elderly people can claim the money.
Asked why it was fair for households in England to lose the payments while all Scottish pensioners were shielded from the cut, the Prime Minister replied: “We have devolution in the United Kingdom and as a government we have given the Scottish government significant powers in relation to welfare and they make a number of decisions about various welfare benefits in Scotland.
“The decision we have made about winter fuel payments is that we will continue to ensure that the least well-off pensioners are supported but there is a principle of fairness.
“You see well-off pensioners getting help with their fuel bill and struggling ordinary families not having that help available.”
She refused to be drawn on Labour claims that the cut could hit around 10 million pensioners.
“We are going to make changes for the payments of the winter fuel payments but we will continue to ensure that the least well-off pensioners are protected,” the Prime Ministers said during a visit to a haulage firm in North Berwick.
Unveiling the party’s manifesto in Edinburgh, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said of the decision: “We’ve made a different choice in Scotland in our Scottish manifesto today. We believe there shouldn’t be means testing for the winter fuel payment.”
The Conservative manifesto in Scotland says the winter fuel allowance will not be means tested.
It stated: “We will also maintain all pensioner benefits in Scotland, including free bus passes and TV licences for the duration of this parliament.
“Social security devolution allows us to make different choices in Scotland and so we will protect universal Winter Fuel Payments for all older people and they will not be subject to means-testing.
“We will focus on ensuring that no pensioner has to live in a hard-to-heat home in Scotland by the end of the next decade through significant investment in energy efficiency.”
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s National Elections Coordinator, said: “When the Scottish Tory Leader comes out against her own Party’s attack on pensioner incomes I think it’s fair to say the policy is starting to unravel.
“The Tory attack on pensioners’ Winter Fuel Allowance is unfair and outrageous, and lays bare the threat they pose to pensioners’ security and living standards.
“The Tories should admit they’ve got it wrong, apologise and drop it immediately.”
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The Tories are utter hypocrites. How can they take cash off English pensioners and then give it to Scottish pensioners?
“It looks like a cheap election bung and it won’t wash.
“It is utterly scandalous that the Conservatives want to axe the triple lock and now do this.
“Theresa May and her ministers are just taking pensioners and their votes for granted. They don’t seem to care about them.”